The Interplay of Identity, Culture, and Self-Love for Black Women
If you come from a culture where self-love isn’t practiced, you’re going to grow up thinking it’s not something you need to worry that much about.
There are plenty of cultures where the idea of self-love is very foreign and it’s considered vain or self-serving to set aside time for yourself, so women grow up without having any role models to look up to in terms of self-care.
I’m originally from Haiti. I spent half of my life there. I still have family there and I visit quite often. Self-love isn’t practiced there, particularly among Black women. It is said that Haitian women carry the country on their shoulders. We’re hard workers; we’re mothers; we’re daughters. In Haiti, for instance, you will never hear of putting one's elderly in a home. We take care of our family members. And when I say “we,” I literally mean Black women. The men may contribute financially a little bit, but it’s mostly the Black women taking care of the family. There are plenty of cultures where the idea of self-love is very foreign. It’s considered vain. It’s considered self-serving to set aside time for yourself.
As Black women, we grow up without having any role models to encourage us to or help us to embark on our individual journeys of self-love and self-care.
I remember my mother when I was growing up. She worked all day. In the evening, she still managed to help us with homework, until 7:00, or 8:00 at night. She wouldn’t let us go to sleep until all our lessons were learned, until all our homework was completed. When I think about her then, I have this idea of someone who was sacrificing everything for the sake of her career and her family. I find myself doing the same thing and I often have to stop in my tracks and say, “You know what? You need to take care of yourself as well, because to continue serving your community and/or serving your family, you need to be in good shape.”
Identity is formed through self-love to some extent. As you learn to love yourself, you discover who you are and are able to forge an identity.
I’m not sure you can claim an identity without a measure of self-love, because without self-love, there’s very little self-knowledge.
You develop a strong identity, a strong personality, when you learn to take care of yourself.
I have done a lot of thinking over the last two to three years, and I wonder, if I were, let’s say, a Japanese woman, would I look after myself better? Probably. I’ve studied different cultures, and I’ve learned that for centuries, the Japanese have been turning everyday activities into powerful practices of self-care and self-cultivation. Not taking care of yourself is unheard of in a Japanese community. Japanese women are taught to make sure they’re groomed; they’re taught to look after themselves; they’re taught to take time off. They’re taught to do yoga.
Did I get taught about self-care when I was growing up? No, I didn’t. And no offense to my mom. My mom is amazing, the best mother I could have gotten, but she didn’t get to teach me to take a time out. I was taught to study, and to study hard. Haitian parents have the highest aspirations for their children—they're going to be lawyers, doctors, engineers. I learned to aim high because that’s how I would succeed.
But I was never taught to take a step back.
My work ethic is strong, and for those who know me, I will work twenty-four hours a day if the job needs to get done. I’ll be the one who’s sending you emails at 1:00 a.m. to get through my to-do list. But how do I train myself to take a step back when I haven’t got it in me to keep going? It’s something I’m still trying to learn.
Some of us are so busy that it’s hard to take a time out for self-care. We’ve got kids and commitments and they keep us too busy to take the time off we need to refuel ourselves. But self-care doesn’t need to take a lot of time. It’s not just about getting pedicures and taking bubble baths. It’s also about making sure you are fit mentally, spiritually, and professionally, and that doesn’t necessarily need to take a lot of time. You can spend five minutes meditating, for example.
You can squeeze in enough time in even the busiest of days to make sure you are actively practicing self-care.
And, as you continue to engage in meditation, yoga, breathing techniques, etc., self-care will become a priority for you. Perhaps while reading a good book about taking a breather, you will start thinking, “That feels a bit alien to me, but maybe I should take this advice from this author. Maybe I need to get my toenails done.” (I actually got my toes done this week, and I was still sitting there with my laptop while I was getting a pedicure. Who does that? I had work to do, and I’ve been taught to multitask. Sigh.)
My identity as a Haitian-born woman plays a huge role in how I take a step back—or don’t. Culture does play a huge role in self-care. Not everyone learned to take a time out to watch a movie and relax. In some cultures, you’ve got to keep on going and you drop when you die. But, by that point, you’ve burnt out your mental health and your physical health.
I’ve learned, am learning, and will continue to learn new ways of stepping back.
A creator of safe spaces, and an initiator of difficult conversations, M.J. Fievre, B.S. Ed, spent much time building up her Black students, helping them feel comfortable in their skin, and affirming their identities. Her close relationships with parents and students led her to look more closely at how we can balance protecting our child’s innocence with preparing them for the realities of Black life. When―and how―do you approach racism with your children? How do you protect their physical and mental health while also preparing them for a country full of systemic racism? She began to research the issue and speak to school counselors and psychologists to find (and apply!) strategies parents and teachers can use with their children to broach uncomfortable but necessary topics.
M.J. is the author of Badass Black Girl, a daily dose of affirmations for Black Girls
“You'll come away from Badass Black Girl feeling as if you've known the author your entire life, and it's a rare feat for any writer.” ―“Mike, the Poet,” author of Dear Woman and The Boyfriend Book
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Affirmations for strong, fearless Black girls. Wisdom from Badass Black female trailblazers who accomplished remarkable things in literature, entertainment, education, STEM, business, military and government services, politics and law, activism, sports, spirituality, and more.
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